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California Hiking Trails

Updated on April 26, 2015

California is a state blessed with diverse beauty and stunning hiking trails. Every region of California has something different to offer. No matter where you are in the state, you can find an interesting place to stroll around.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley | Source

California Hiking Trails

Since there are so many wonderful hiking trails in California, we selected some of the most popular and a few hidden gems worth exploring. They are broken down roughly by geographic area.

Northern California

  • The Lake Tahoe Area has many beautiful hikes surrounding this scenic lake on the California Nevada border. Most feature views of the deep blue water. Many of these hikes can be done year around, but be sure to have the right equipment and be prepared if you are hiking in winter. The Mt Tallac climb is especially nice.
  • Yosemite National Park is one of the premier hiking spots in California. It is virtually impossible to have a bad hike here. There are dozens of different hiking trails of all lengths for all experience levels. One of Yosemite’s most famous hikes is the Half Dome trail. It is 16.4 miles roundtrip to the peak at 4800 feet. Taking the John Muir Trail up and the Mist Trail down is recommended.
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park is located in Santa Cruz County. It has many attractive hiking trails winding through the giant trees. You will feel like you are an insect next to these magnificent trees.
  • Del Valle Regional Park is one of the more enjoyable hiking sites in the Bay Area of Northern California. It is in the East Bay Regional Park District of Alameda County.
  • The Baker Beach Trail offers a spectacular vantage point to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Try to walk this trail on a clear day and don’t forget to bring your camera.
  • The Long Ridge Open Space Reserve is an easy 11 mile loop hike along Peters Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • The Skyline to Sea Trail extends about 30 miles from Waddell Beach to Saratoga Gap Vista Point. This is where Highway 9 meets Highway 35. Hikers get to experience the Santa Cruz Mountains, Castle Rock State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Other notable hiking trails in Northern California include Beebe Lake, Crockers Point, Echo Lake, Fouth of July Lake, Long Lake, Penner Lake, Red Lake and Twin Redwoods.

Banner Peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Banner Peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Central California

  • The San Simeon Big Sur area is is loaded with more than a dozen attractive hiking trails. Salmon Springs Trail, Ewoldson Trail, Partington Cove Trail and the Andrew Molera Loop are especially nice. Also check out San Simeon Cove, Limekiln State Park, Montana de Oro State Park.
  • The Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness Areas are located nearby and also feature many nice hiking trails. The Santa Lucia Mountains to the Big Sur area is very scenic.
  • Aniso Trail runs along El Capitan Beach near Santa Barbara. It hugs the Gaviota coastline above Santa Barbara between El Capitan beach and Refugio beach. Go at sunset to get the full effect of this stunning hiking trail.
  • John Muir Trail connects two of California’s most famous National Parks. It runs from the Mt. Whitney summit in the Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park up to the Yosemite Valley. The trail extends more than 200 miles through sometimes difficult terrain. This is an expert hike. Be sure to have the right equipment and experienced hiking buddies.
  • King's Canyon National Park has several challenging and attractive hikes. The Rae Lakes Area and Ionian Basin are especially nice.
  • Sequoia National Park has fabulous hiking trails including Moro Rock and Little Baldy. They are short hikes but very satisfying.
  • The trail up to the top of White Mountain Peak near Biship is called the “easiest fourteener” to summit. It is only 7 and a half miles to the peak at 14,246 feet.
  • The trail to the top of Mt Whitney is more than 6000 feet up. The trailhead starts you at 8300 feet. This is an expert climb to nearly 14,500 feet above sea level. Only expert hikers should attempt it with the proper equipment and training.
  • Devil's Postpile National Monument is about a 3 hour drive south of Reno. It features a rare 60 foot high columnar basalt formation. The hiking trail there also goes by the 101-foot high Rainbow Falls. The Devil's Postpile National Monument is only open during the summer months.

California Hiking
California Hiking | Source

Southern California

  • Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
  • The Backbone Trail extends 70 miles along the Santa Monica Mountains from the Will Rogers Historical State Park to the Point Mugu State Park in Los Angeles County. The volcanic formations resemble a backbone.
  • Death Valley National Park has several spectacular hikes featuring desert and canyon terrain. The Red Wall Canyon is especially scenic.
  • Devil's Punchbowl Park features a truly strange punchbowl shaped hole decorated with bizzarely shaped rocks. It was created by years of California earthquakes. It is a fascinating hike in the Los Angeles area.
  • The Santa Barbara Area is famous for its beach hikes as well as its hill trails. Check out Camino Cielo Road, the San Rafael Wilderness and the Santa Ynez Mountains.
  • The Sea to Sea Trail is somewhat new. Few hikers have experienced it. It connects the Pacific Ocean to the Salton Sea near Arizona. Be one of the first to say you made the journey.
  • Joshua Tree National Park features a rare hiking treasure hunt. The location of the ellusive “castle” is a secret known to a select few. Maybe you can convince a local to let you in on the secret location. Even if you don’t find it, there are some pretty nice hikes there.
  • Other notable hiking trails in Southern California include Box Canyon, Mugu Rock, the Punchbowls, Red Rock, Rindge Dam and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Channel Islands

Channel Islands National Park is loaded with great hiking trails. East Anacapa Island has the impressive Arch Rock.

You can’t hike up to it but you can get close enough to see it well. Getting there involves a strenuous hike up a stairs from the boat dock. Don’t miss the view from Inspiration Point.

© 2015 Discover the World


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    • EsJam profile image

      Essie 2 years ago from Southern California

      California girl, here! Love, love, this hub! Ty!